Nadal a nemesis no more
Federer now has the knowledge of how to overcome his top foe
Roger Federer of Switzerland will use what he learned in a five-hour marathon loss to Rafael Nadal at the Italian Open to turn the table on the Spaniard in Sunday's men's singles final at the French Open, writes Bud Collins of MSNBC.com.
By Bud Collins
Updated: 7:49 p.m. CT June 9, 2006
PARIS - It’s good news here at the French Open as the tennis world is going to be treated to the men's singles final fans had hoped for -- Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal.
And while that's the good news, I feel the big news will come on Sunday with Federer putting an end to Nadal's incredible 59-match winning streak on clay.
Meeting up once again
From the minute the French fortnight began, everybody was talking about a final between Federer and Nadal. Well, on Friday, those two finished up their last piece of business to secure their showdown.
Federer had a bad start to his semifinal match against David Nalbandian, and he fell behind 6-3, 3-0, but just as he started to find his game, the Argentine began to be bothered by a left stomach muscle injury.
In the end, Nalbandian retired to give Federer a 3-6, 6-4, 5-2 win, and a spot in the final.
Then Nadal worked his magic against Ivan Ljubicic to put himself in position to defend his French Open crown with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7) win.
Now that the next version of tennis' answer to Ali-Frazier is set for Court Philippe Chatrier here at Roland Garros, let’s take a look at how these stars stack up against each other.
Before we do that, let’s just make a note that the crafty southpaw Nadal holds a 5-1 career edge on Federer, and has won all three of their meetings this year in the Dubai, Monte Carlo and Rome finals.
But let me say that I was in Rome and saw that five-set thriller, and Federer should have won except for two bad points he played at the end of the fifth set.
And it also pays to note that Federer has a 7-0 record in Grand Slam finals, and that’s got to provide some serious confidence for the Swiss.
Here’s the bottom line: While it might matter to these guys who wins this battle, I think history shows that they are going to put on a great show.
So here’s the breakdown on different elements of their games.
I think Federer has the better serve, but on the other hand, Nadal’s serve is improving, and he seems to know how to hit that ace down the middle quite a lot.
But in the big picture, Federer is just much more reliable on the serve, and Nadal has to work on his service consistency
I think they both have a really good return-of-serve, but if I had to say that one had a better return than the other, I would have to give a nod to Nadal.
And I especially feel that Nadal has a bit of an edge on the return-of-serve on clay, which isn’t surprising since he’s the best clay-court player in the world these days.
But what I can say is that Federer should keep in mind that he has big opportunities on the return-of-serve when Nadal is forced into a second-serve situation. Federer should make sure to take advantage of such opportunities by chipping and charging on any of Nadal’s second serves.
Federer is the better volleyer, and that’s how I think he’s got to win this match. If Federer isn’t on the attack and he doesn’t take every opportunity to move forward, I’m not sure about his chances to win this match.
He saw in Rome that he could attack Nadal, but I think he still needs to overcome some hesitancy in this area.
I’m sure Federer’s coach, Tony Roche, is encouraging him to come forward whenever he can. For Roche, coming forward was instinctive. It’s not that way for Federer, but he should feel confident to do so anyway.
I think they both have exquisite forehands so it’s very hard to give an advantage in this category.
The forehand is a specialty of both of these players, but I must mention that the inside-out forehand of Nadal’s is a killer, while Federer has a more conventional forehand.
Nadal’s forehand has a lot of spin, and it comes up high on Federer, but the Swiss can manage that I’m sure.
I think Nadal has the better backhand. The Spaniard keeps his forehand in play more often, and it is a stronger weapon than Federer’s backhand.
Stamina not an issue for either player
Fitness and athleticism
Both of these guys are fit -– if you doubt that just look at how well they cover the court.
And both of them have proven that they can play five-hour matches so they aren’t about to wilt away from a great challenge. They might have been tired in Rome, but they weren’t droopy.
While I believe Nadal is probably the stronger physical specimen, I think they both can hold their own in the fitness-athleticism category.
Well, the best I can tell, Nadal’s strategy is just to get to every ball, and put it back with a lot of spin on it. I don’t know if there’s any plan there.
I think the strategy has to come more from Federer -– he has to know when to come in, and when to stay back. He has to set up in his mind how the match is going to go.
Federer is a better student of the game, and he is older and has been around more.
I think they both are mentally tough, and they both have been looking forward to this match.
Nadal should be very confident since he’s beaten Federer on clay, and he’s even beaten him on hard courts.
This is a very important match for Federer to gain his equilibrium. Even though he’s going on to the grass, his favorite surface, he’s not going to feel very good if he loses here.
A lot of people say why is Nadal ranked No. 2 if he’s always beating No. 1, and that’s a question that Federer needs to answer.
Nadal has a slight advantage mentally because of the way he’s beaten Federer every time they’ve played.
Many are going with Nadal to take the title, but I'm basing my pick of Federer to win on his having learned a lot during his marathon encounter with Nadal earlier this season in the Italian Open final.
Federer, I believe, will show he knows how to translate the knowledge gained in Rome into a win over his nemesis.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive